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[My Computational Complexity Web Log] The Specialization of Computer Science

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  • Lance
    I heard the following from a senior economist recently. A researcher at the beginning of his career has to please others. In order to receive a Ph.D., get a
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2004
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      I heard the following from a senior economist recently.
      A researcher at the beginning of his career has to please others. In order to receive a Ph.D., get a job and eventually tenure, he has to not only produce good research but research of value to others. The researcher might think that once he gets tenure he can do the research he wants, but by that time he has become so specialized it is impossible to change direction.
      Looking at economics can give us a glimpse into the near future of computer science as a discipline. Though economics as a field has been around for a very long time, only since the 1950's did economics develop as a rigorous mathematical discipline. This gives economics about a 15-year head start on computer science.

      When I started in grad school in the mid-80's, I could follow nearly every talk at the major theory conferences, STOC and FOCS, though I would not have followed any computer science talk which might have been true 10-15 years earlier. These days I can understand the importance of the main results of maybe half of the talks and have actual interest in only a small fraction of these. The growth of specialty conferences such as Complexity, SODA (algorithms), SoCG (Computational Geometry), Crypto, RANDOM/APPROX, COLT (Learning Theory), LICS (Logic in CS), QIP (Quantum) and so on have only increased this divide. We get less and less crossbreeding between these subfields of theory.

      On the other hand, some researchers still can and do (with some effort) change research areas in theory and general computer science even after tenure. But in 15 years will we look like economics where a late change in field is difficult to impossible and soon after that like mathematics where it often takes years of graduate school just to understand the major open questions in an area.

      --
      Posted by Lance to My Computational Complexity Web Log at 9/30/2004 09:47:55 AM

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